In short, a coworker is working on short stories / novels during his down time at work. While I have looked at this question, I think it's different in that his writing is definitely for profit, not related to the job at hand (programming), and he is a hired consultant with what I imagine to be a substantial billing rate.

Under more typical circumstances I would never bring this up, as I believe everyone should be free to take moments throughout the day to let their mind relax. Additionally, our team is very comfortable and open, and I can't imagine someone being disciplined for taking a moment to read the news or pay a bill online.

It might be a case of sour grapes for me, as I'd like to work on personal projects myself, but don't mix them with work because I think it's unprofessional on top of being harmful to both me and my employer.

Should I mention my concerns to my manager, or keep them to myself and not stir the pot?

Edit: Not sure it's relevant at this point, but just wanted to add for those asking in comments & answers - he is consulting on contract from a company that my company is partnered with. He has been around working on various projects (and whatever requests he's assigned) for the better part of two years. This is common at our company (I believe some are pushing 5 to 10 years).

  • 41
    Are you sure the contractor is billing during the time he is working on his own stuff? If you don't see the bills, I would just assume he's billing honestly and stay out of it. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 16:08
  • 48
    In my opinion this is a case of "Mind your own business." How do you even know what they are working on unless they have explicitly mentioned it or you are peeking at their screen? If they did mention it, that was your chance to tell them you don't approve. Beyond that, it's not your problem to deal with.
    – WalkerDev
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 16:14
  • 1
    @mcknz - Is a consultant a coworker?
    – user8365
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 17:16
  • 18
    This sounds more like jealousy than anything. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:32
  • 2
    First element is whether contractor is delivering value equal to billings or better. Is employer paying for results? I regularly step away from 'work' to something unrelated to let a problem sit until a solution bubbles up. It often takes a while. I get paid for results, and late in a 40+ year career have never had a complaint about billings. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 5:59

5 Answers 5


You don't want to be known as the "office rat". Management usually cares about one thing: "Is the job done well and in a timely fashion?" all else is window dressing.

Approaching management could really foul the waters and have far-reaching effects, such as a new "lase" policy where everyone must be working every moment of every day except for assigned breaks. Your company may not name the policy after you, but your coworkers will. Oh, and forget about ever reading the news or paying on online bill after the new policy is instated.

Is your work getting done? Is his?

If you MUST say something, say something to him, not management.

"Hey, you don't want management to see that" may be all that you need to say to him to end the behavior, but do not involve management unless it becomes an issue to the company.

  • 3
    @JeffO as opposed to an employee that is being paid a salary? Return on investment is what matters. If I hired a consultant and I'm paying him $80 per hour and he's devised a process that saved the company millions, do you really think I'd care what he was doing on down time? Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 17:59
  • 25
    @RichardU: where do you get these 80$-consultants from :-)?
    – eckes
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 18:13
  • 2
    @JeffO It only applies if the consultant is billing the time they spend doing non-work-related tasks. If someone puts in an 8-6 shift, takes an hour for lunch, and four fifteen-minute writing breaks during the day, they're still working the standard 8 hours (though we're verging on the territory of acceptable "smoke breaks" now, but that's another topic entirely). Now if they do that and bill for 9 hours then you've got a problem...
    – thanby
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:13
  • 13
    also @thanby Here's another angle. If a consultant gets an idea on the ride home, does he get to charge that time to the company? Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:20
  • 1
    @RichardU You're absolutely right it depends on the company, so consultants have to adapt their behaviors to fit each client (and specifically, their policies). As far as your scenario, that would only be chargeable if it led to a significant amount of productive work (most places only let you split time down into hours) and it was within policy to charge that time (e.g., it wasn't unplanned overtime, you're allowed to work after hours, etc).
    – thanby
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:34

While others have answered—and you have selected an answer already, this one line in your question stood out to me:

…he is a hired consultant with what I imagine to be a substantial billing rate.

If you don’t know the parameters or rate of billing for this consultant you are just projecting your—sorry to say—“fantasy” ideas of what this arrangement is. The most basic ways consultants bill are as follows:

  • Time based billing.
  • Project based billing.
  • Retainer based billing.

Someone getting paid per hour is one thing. Someone getting paid per project is another. And someone getting paid on a retainer is yet another thing.

I’ve worked for many places as a consultant on a monthly retainer where I negotiate a base level of hours I am available to a client. And irregardless of level of work, I am available to them. If heavy work happens during those retainers, busy work day for me. If utterly no work happens, I’m not busy. But in both cases I am still paid. The goal of a retainer is to assure that a resource (like me) is available to deal with something when it comes up. And if I work hours outside of my retainer? Hourly billing kicks in.

Ditto with projects: If I am hired to do work on a project, my billing is based on the scope of the project and the scope of the work I have been hired to do. Typically project-based billing calculates estimated hours, is compensated based on a 50/50 split. I get paid 50% of total billing at the start of the project. And then I get paid the remaining 50% at the end of the project. Extra hours kick in only after the project has ended and requests have gone out of the initial project scope. Also the 50/50 assures that if somehow the project goes sour while in progress, I can walk away without any repercussions other than losing 50% of billing.

But this is all to say what I said at the outset: A consultant’s specific arrangement with a client is not as clear cut as “They should be working heads down constantly on work for each hour of the project.” Often consultants have tons of perceived “slack” time because at the end of the day working them to death is not the goal; the goal is just to get the project done and downtime taken to do anything else is known to be valuable and part of the process.

  • 7
    I am freelancer and I can tell you, this is the best answer. You have no idea what the billing arrangement is. Even if paid by the hour, you don't know that he is charging that time spent writing to the company. I often work on a different project while on site with a client when that client asks that I hang around (for a later meeting, for them to finish up something internal, or just to be there) I just don't bill that client. It's a great way to keep the bill down, while still giving them my ability to be around in case of a need.
    – coteyr
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 17:07

As you work in a fairly relaxed environment, your colleague has probably just misread the tone of the workplace. Your first step should be to speak to them, not your manager.

Explain that you've noticed their behaviour and that you're not comfortable with it. Most people are aware when they should be working (as opposed to posting on Stack Overflow) and will remedy their behaviour.


I have to disagree with the answers so far. This person is being paid by the hour as a consultant to your company, he doesn't have downtime. If he is working on something else and billing your company that is fraud, and it is your business, because the success of your company is your success.

You need to speak to your manager about your concerns. It is your managers concern at that point and you should stay out of it after that.

If retaliation is a concern or change in policy, mention that you want to remain as anonymous as possible in all this to your manager, and that you are concerned because this individual is a contract employee and as such is paid hourly and you felt compelled to pass this along because you felt he/she was defrauding the company with this behavior. A key distinction is salaried employees are paid not just for the time on the clock but everything they create. If you wrote some novel new piece of software it would belong to the company, not you, they own you. They don't own this individual only the time they contribute and if they are working on something else then they are not contributing to your company.

A key distinction here is 'hourly'. Hourly consultants should only be billing the hours they are working and if this downtime is caused by the company and is part of the process, then they can be compensated, but double dipping is a big no no here, so if there is downtime and they are being paid for this, then they should be doing something to benefit the company not enriching themselves with a side project.

  • 18
    You're assuming that he's actually billing that time, and there's no evidence to support that. If he is billing it and there's no other excuse (usually there's not) then you've got a problem, but unless the OP is the consultant's manager or accountant, they shouldn't know this information, and therefore cannot do anything other than speculate.
    – thanby
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 19:25
  • 3
    That's why I said he should pass it along and then let it go. it's for the manager to ascertain if double dipping is going on or not, not the OP Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 21:36
  • 3
    I don't get it why are you insisting on this difference. A regular employee is also supposed to work for the benefit of their company non-stop, unless the downtime is caused by the company. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 10:26
  • This. I don't get why everyone else seems to think this behaviour should be ignored. Taking a break to read a news article is entirely different from working on personal pet projects while you're billing extortionate contractor rates to work on a company's projects instead. Be cautious because you don't know for sure what's going on, but you absolutely have a responsibility to at the very least make some effort to resolve the problem if there is one (without making waves if there turns out not to be). Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 11:45

I think consultants are different than working with fellow employees. They do charge higher rates and are there as a "hired-gun." Typical office/social norms don't all apply.

You may want to have a conversation with your supervisor about this and just ask if you should consider this person as just another one of your team mates. If you had an office party, would this person be invited? The nature of expensive hourly billing usually puts management on the defensive and sometimes they may not want you to disturb this person at all for fear of wasting money.

If they are not too concerned with forcing this person to work for every billable hour, then say nothing. Otherwise, you do have an obligation to speak up if the company doesn't approve of this behavior. If someone delivers one package are you going to sign-off on an invoice that indicates there should be two? Would it be acceptable for the delivery person to tell you he's keeping the other box in his truck so he can sell it on Ebay later?

  • 2
    This was partially the impetus to my question in the first place, but the consensus seemed to be that being a tattle-tale was a no-go. Also, no, consultants are not invited to the office funded parties.
    – lase
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 17:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .